Dusty is a 25 year-old soon to be mom for the first time. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was a 14 year-old. She looks back on her mother’s journey with admiration and some regrets thinking she could have done more to support her mother. One of five children she speaks to how each of her siblings dealt with the news in their own way. She only knew about cancer through a friend’s mom who had passed away from the disease and immediately thought the same would happen to hers. She movingly reflects on how communication and support in the family unit helped her mother beat breast cancer and continue to thrive 10 years later.
My name is Dusty. I am 25 years old. I'm married and I am six months pregnant. I have three sisters and a brother. I'm one of 5, right in the middle.
My mom is a 10-year breast cancer survivor. When she was diagnosed, I was 14 years old. When I found out that she had breast cancer, I was shocked. It was a bit numbing. I didn't really have a lot of experience or had heard of people being diagnosed with breast cancer. The first person that popped into my mind was a parent of one of the girls I went to grade school with, and she had passed away from breast cancer and I remember seeing her some days with no hair, and she had a scarf on, and to me, to my 14-year-old mind, breast cancer meant no hair and it meant dying.
My mom sat us down in the living room, and she let us know that she had been diagnosed but that she was going to be okay, and that was it one sentence...I've been diagnosed but I'm going to be okay. So there was fear and like I said a a little bit of numbness, a lot of sadness. I cried. But there was also some comfort in knowing that my mom was going to handle this and she was going to do it and she was going to be okay. Being a mom comes first for her, and I think the fact that she was able to give her kids that comfort was huge.
Looking back now as a 25-year-old, I have some regrets. I have some feelings like, oh, I should have been there for her more. Probably should have gone to more chemo treatments with her. I should have asked her how she was feeling more often. I should have done all these things. But I know that as a 14-year-old I probably wasn't capable.
I know she went into surgery right away. To me, surgery is hospitals and the white walls and that whole thing that's just terrifying for me. Seeing her in a bed; seeing her hooked up to IV's; that's not how you want to see your mom. But again she came through it and thrived. She really didn't act like a patient ever. She was carrying my little brother, a one year old, holding him after surgery, feeding him, just keeping up with our day-to day-lives, softball games and whatever else we had going on.
Not long after she started chemo, and I think the physical changes hit me pretty hard. She's so energetic and so lively and I think of what chemo does to you drains you mentally and physically and emotionally on all levels and, of course, hair falling out and seeing her with a scarf or seeing her with a wig. It was difficult at first but we made light of it. Our family probably uses humor and joking a little too much at times but we kept it light. We got through it.
And I remember the day her hair started falling out in the shower. That was hard for her so it was really hard for me to see her like that because I think up until that point I hadn't really seen her break or seen her cry maybe and she's not a superficial person at all, but I think when you've just gone through surgery and lost part of your womanhood and your hair starts falling out, it just became a lot all at once.
I remember going to the hospital with her and they have like a center that women can go to and try on different wigs and different makeup applications, and we did that with her, and we laughed at all the horrendous wigs she tried on and we agreed on ones that looked amazing on her and she made us part of the process and part of the healing, and I think that was really important that she included us in that.
She waited quite a while before getting reconstructive surgery because my little brother was so young. I know she wanted to be able to hold him and play with him and drive us to where we needed to be and just stay an active part. She was probably sick of being in the hospital, sick of being of stuck and sick of seeing doctors.
So when she decided to get reconstruction, I was happy. I didn't feel like, oh, here we go again or what's going to happen now. It was more like my mom feels like she's ready and she wants to feel comfortable. I don't want to put words into her mouth, but I am sure that there is some feeling of loss or insecurity or you just don't feel like yourself. So when she decided to get it, we supported her and were excited for her and everything went really well.
I am so close with my mom. My sisters make fun of us that we are the same person. We walk the same. We talk the same. We're just a lot alike. And I'm just an emotional person especially when it comes to her so I think I probably cried the most. I probably showed how angry I was. I just wore my emotions on my sleeve. For my oldest sister, she was not around a lot at that time so I know that she was dealing with it in her own way. The sister that's a little bit older than me she stays very quiet and she internalizes a lot of things and I wish that I would have probably checked in with her more often. We're kind of yin and yang. That's how we work and so I'm always a little bit louder, and she's always a little bit more quiet. I know that all my siblings were extremely worried and upset and saddened but I think that we all just dealt with it in different ways.
I did talk to my mom if I had questions or concerns and I've always had amazing friends. I've always had a really strong group of girlfriends and I know that they were concerned. Their moms were concerned for all of us.
I just talked to whoever would listen, I think. I didn't want to hide it. I wasn't ashamed of what was going on. I absolutely believe that being up front and communicating to family and close friends is important. They don't know what it's like to be told that you have cancer, but I know that my mom was almost like a soldier, like she was in the fight but she also was so interested in meeting other people that were also fighting. I really think that being open and being able to receive help that others are willing to give you was a huge part of her journey. She had to let go of control. She had to let go of cooking dinner every night and making sure we got to places on time and she did a lot of it but she couldn't do all of it.
What would I say to a 14-year-old whose mom has just been diagnosed with breast cancer? I would say stay open. Tell your mom or your parents how you're feeling. Tell them what you're struggling with. Don't worry so much that they are going through this. They need to know that you're okay, as well, and they need to know that your questions are being answered. They need to know what your fears are or what you're uncomfortable with. They need to know what you're thinking.
And it's okay to be angry. It's okay to be sad. It's okay to feel like you have no idea what's going on. And I think for the parent it's really important to stay open, as well, and to communicate what's going on. I think a lot of times parents want to shield their kids from this pain.
I'm only six months pregnant but I feel that I'm going to want to protect my child from everything and I know that that's not reality. They're going to know what's going on. They need answers. They don't want to be left in the dark. I think at that age you're probably not great at expressing yourself so for me tears and anger came first, and I think the more you communicate with them, this is what's actually going on; you're able to give them something to work with.
Having my mom go through the breast cancer journey has absolutely changed me. I saw her change drastically after she went through the whole process. She became a different person in the best way possible.
I learn from her all the time. She's my greatest example. She's just an example of doing what makes you happy and not waiting. You don't always get tomorrow, and as cliché as it sounds you don't; you don't know when your time's going to be up. She shines. She's a huge light.
I would say to kids that are my age that I was when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer just trust the process and trust what's going on. You're not in control of a lot and that's okay, and it's okay to be upset, and it's okay to be sad and angry, but you have to deal with those emotions in a productive way. You have to be there for your mom, and just for this little segment in your life it's not about you, and just try your hardest to be present emotionally and physically because your mom needs you.